People who work to reduce alcohol-related harm won’t be surprised by Christian Kerr’s attack on them in The Australian (Nanny’s drinking problem, 22/01/13). Health promoters are used to being labelled wowsers and nannies and worse.
Kerr objected to the Cancer Council publicising the link between alcohol consumption and cancer. The Cancer Council has made it publically known that their research indicates there is no ‘safe’ level of drinking to avoid cancer. However, they have also pointed out that the link between alcohol and cancer is stronger for particular types of cancer including of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, breast, bowel and liver. And that, typically, heavier drinkers face a greater risk of cancer than moderate drinkers, and non-drinkers avoid the risk of alcohol induced cancer. Australian data suggests that alcohol accounts for 5% of all cancers.
Kerr complains that alcohol is being turned into the new tobacco. What would Kerr prefer? That the Cancer Council hide the link? Women with a family history of breast cancer probably want to know that drinking adds to their risk, so they can make a more informed decision about drinking. Would it be ethical for the Cancer Council to keep quiet because the news might hurt the alcohol industry? In reality the Cancer Council does not promote universal abstinence. It supports the advice of the National Health and Medical Research Council that recommends a limit of two standard drinks on any day to limit the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
So what is Kerr’s real problem? His article could have been written by the alcohol industry such was his liberal quoting of anonymous industry sources on the infamy of health promoters and their aim to influence consumers and governments.
It is almost amusing that Kerr bagged university researchers who receive grants to investigate topics such as ‘corporate influences on media reporting of health’, because his own story was replete with quotes from unnamed alcohol industry ‘insiders’ and ‘sources’. Those researchers ought to look closely at this article.
But his sneering at public health advocacy is more sinister, hinting that public funding of research should not extend to studies that are critical of corporate interests. Despite their free market rhetoric, the alcohol industry appears not to believe in competition.
Kerr also ignored the power of the industry – every popular sport and festival, including Big Day Out, is awash with alcohol sponsors, and the newspapers have been full of liquor ads that proclaim Australia Day is really just another Big Drinkers Day.
Australia’s drinking problem is everyone’s problem; some people just can’t handle that truth.
Have your say about alcohol advertising
The Australian Drug Foundation is supporting a campaign targeting the abundance of alcohol advertising in the TV broadcast of cricket this summer. The campaign was initiated by concerned Tasmanian dad, Aaron Schultz. If you think Cricket Australia needs to think again about the effects of promoting alcohol advertisers throughout matches, sign Aaron’s petition. Check out why Aaron decided to start the petition.